Monday, 28 September 2009

TV Snark - Merlin: The Curse of Cornelius Sigan OR Mackenzie Crook Should Really Say No To Saturday Evening Television

It’s the return of Merlin and the return of my late, snarky, and slightly crappy recaps! Will the show improve on its first series? The pieces are in place: decent performers, good costumes, adequate CGI monsters. It just needs good scripts to make the show tolerable.

Does the second season opener offer a good script to go with guest star Mackenzie Crook?


Oh well. Let’s take a look at what happened then.

Uther has commanded his peasants to dig beneath his castle to find buried treasure left behind by previous rulers. I can only assume that Uther is a bit strapped for cash having spent all of his money on building enormous funeral pyres for witches and sorcerers. The peasants hack at the tunnels beneath Camelot until they find a hidden chamber covered in treasure. Unfortunately the peasants fail their Spot Trap check and one of them is killed by a poison dart. The rest flee like superstitious native in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Gaius Meldrew later ventures into the chamber and sets off the same trap but Merlin reminds the audience that he is MAGIC and uses telekinesis (again) to save Gaius. After a bit of research Gaius realizes that the chamber is the burial site of an ancient wizard who promised to return from the dead to destroy Camelot and so warns Uther against looting the dead. Uther doesn’t believe in this curse because he erm… he hates magic. There’s no logic to this, Uther just decides for the sake of the plot to ignore Gaius’ advice and take all the treasure, despite the fact that Gaius IS ALWAYS RIGHT ABOUT MAGICAL ENEMIES EVERY DAMN EPISODE.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie Crook plays a… crook (this is a vast improvement on Demons where he played Galdiolus Thrip, the teddy boy vampire/demon with a beak). He wants to get his hands on the treasure beneath the castle and soon learns from a very Welsh builder that the treasure is kept locked away. Apparently only Prince Arthur has the key to the chamber and so Mackenzie hatches a plan to become Arthur’s new servant at the expense of Merlin. Mackenzie sabotages Merlin by loosening the saddle on Arthur’s horse, taking credit when Merlin saves Arthur’s life with magic when Arthur is attacked by a boar (Arthur is such a n00b, he should totally have enough levels to deal with a boar by now), serving a sumptuous breakfast to Arthur, and finally making Merlin fall asleep in horse dung via knock out gas. Arthur promptly dumps Merlin as servant (again) as the show seems to have ignored the character development between the two from the end of last season.

Look! He's fallen in the poo! Hahahahahaha!

With Merlin out of the way Mackenzie can now steal the key to the treasure chamber of come-uppance, and steal it he does. Mackenzie starts to loot the chamber but then spots a large heart shaped sapphire on top of the evil mage’s sarcophagus and decides to lift that instead. Mackenzie is instantly possessed by the old mage and becomes Sigan.

Mackenzie/Sigan enacts his plan of revenge by summoning gargoyles from the battlements of Camelot itself. The gargoyles are unstoppable killing machines as they stumble around menacing screaming peasants in that charming cheap CGI way where they don’t physically interact with any of the actors. Arthur and his red shirt knights (remember, they wear red cloaks to display their disposability) fall back under the assault of one gargoyle and all seems lost. Merlin wants to help but Gaius is being very pessimistic this week and he states that the only thing that can stop Sigan is the magical power of something older and more powerful – John Hurt’s CGI dragon! Yes, the dragon that Merlin said he’d never speak to ever again in the season one finale. Time for the relationship reset button.

The reconciliation isn’t played out for long; it’s almost resolved with the speed of two kids who fell out in a playground. The dragon forces Merlin to promise to free him in the future in exchange for a new powerful spell which will probably only ever be used once. Merlin reluctantly agrees and the dragon breathes magic on him. Yeah. This scene is very short and is almost a white washing of last season’s finale when the dragon actually tried to kill Merlin with his fire breath. FORGET LAST YEAR. IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. LOOK AWAY FROM THE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.

Merlin, now armed with a new spell, wanders into the courtyard to find Sigan/Mackenzie posing amidst the destruction. Sigan decides to tempt Merlin with the whole, “together we will rule the galaxy as father and son” speech from The Empire Strikes Back but changes it a bit so that George Lucas won’t sue. Merlin refuses so Sigan decides to possess Merlin instead and this leads to some gurning from Merlin as he fights off the possession and saves the day. Yay for magic dragon spells that conveniently save the day!

Dare you face Mackenzie Goth?

In the aftermath, Uther decides to block up the treasure chamber despite the fact that the evil sorcerer has been defeated and now no longer poses a threat to his looting. Idiot. No wonder his economy needs to be supported by dungeoneering.

Oh yeah, Morgana and Gwen were in this episode but Morgana appeared for all of a minute while she had a bad dream and Gwen flirted a bit with Arthur. Nice to see the ladies have expanded roles this year.

For an alternative view, please head on over Richard Cobbett's site for his own unique take on this episode.

If you want to watch the episode then you can visit here. Unless you're a foreign type, in which case the BBC doesn't want you to see it yet.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Stupid Films That I Love - Demolition Man

The next film in the stupid but great collection is Stallone’s 1993 opus, Demolition Man. It stars Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Denis Leary, Rob Schneider, and erm, Nigel Hawthorne. Bit of backstory here, I actually won a local newspaper competition to see this movie when I was 15. I won a pair of tickets and a Demolition Man beret. Yes, a beret. I never did summon up the courage to wear the beret in public as I was too busy wearing my military deerstalker (with Judge Dredd badge stuck on one side, fashion fans!). So there is some nostalgic value to this film, not a great deal, it’s not like I placed the beret in a special display cabinet or dedicated 1993 as the year of the Demolition Man beret and Simon Phoenix haircut.

Talk of berets aside, Demolition Man is the story of supercop John Spartan and his feud with criminal Simon Phoenix (got to love the over the top character names, they’ve been a big influence when choosing names for my own fictional creations). The movie starts in the near future (now the recent past to us) as Los Angeles has become a war zone due to gang warfare. Simon Phoenix (played by Wesley Snipes) is a super criminal whose amazing plan seems to be kidnapping school buses and ransoming them off. Having watched The Wire, I’m not convinced that Phoenix’s business model is sustainable in the long term, I mean stealing a school bus is something you could only pull off a couple of times surely? John Spartan doesn’t approve of kidnapping school kids so he decides to singlehandedly infiltrate Phoenix ’s lair and bring him to justice.

Spartan’s plan doesn’t go well and it ends with both him and Phoenix sentenced to several decades of cryogenic jail time. Decades later Phoenix and Spartan are thawed out to continue their feud in a more civilised and sterilised future age. Wacky hi-jinks ensue as the two men from the past use brutal methods unseen by the peaceful future inhabitants of San Angeles.

This is a culture shock movie with lashings of comedy violence, it’s actually quite dark in places but you’re never shown anything explicitly nasty directly on screen. The film has a pretty decent cast for a mainstream comedy action movie, Wesley Snipes is great fun as Phoenix as he clearly delights in his crimes. Stallone as Spartan is pretty much playing the clich├ęd maverick cop who DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR RULES DAMMIT but uses his charisma to make it work. Sandra Bullock appears in one of her early main character roles in a big budget movie and she does her usual job of being the sexy girl/future cop next door. Rob Schneider is well, Rob Schneider. I assume his performance in this movie is why he was cast as comedy sidekick Fergie in the Judge Dredd film a couple of years later. Oh yeah, Jesse Ventura is in it too!

Demolition Man is an inoffensive movie with a simple message about corruption in paradise and a warning about over reliance on technology. One of my favourite ongoing jokes is the constant fines levied by a faceless but omnipresent computer whenever John Spartan swears. It’s not ground breaking but it is a lot of fun, the action sequences are well done and quite imaginative in places and the future world is well realised, if pretty silly. This is a stupid but endearing action movie that obviously won’t tax the brain but will leave you entertained.

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Stupid Films That I Love – Crank

This is a new feature and much like My Favourite Episodes it will focus on something I like, namely films that are stupid but that I love all the same. It will probably appear once in a blue moon just like My Favourite Episodes. I am nothing if not unpredictable.

The first movie up is from the Jason Statham brand – Crank.

Crank is very, very, stupid and silly. Do not begin watching this movie expecting a work of art, a discussion of the human spirit, or a story of the triumph of the human soul. Expect violence, bad language, car chases, gun play and Amy Smart in a summer dress. It’s best to regard this film as a live action version of Grand Theft Auto with better dialogue.

Jason Statham is the improbably named Chev Chelios, he is a cockney assassin living in Los Angeles (this is never explained but I guess it’s because Jason Statham’s American accent is awful and his natural cockney accent is funny when heard in conjunction with American antagonists). Chev has made enemies amongst the Latino gangs and they have poisoned him with some “Chinese shit,” a toxin which will eventually slow his heart down to a complete stop and kill him. Chev discovers that if he keeps his adrenaline pumping his heart won’t stop and he won’t die, so he embarks on a heart pumping rampage across the city – will he find a cure, gain revenge on his enemies, and finally confess to his girlfriend that he’s not really a computer game programmer?

Now you’ve just read the synopsis and you’re probably thinking to yourself, “that sounds like absolute crap” and that’s exactly what I thought before I watched Crank. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Crank has a wicked sense of humour running throughout the movie and a tongue so far in cheek that it’s burst through the skin and is waggling around manically. The film starts with the movie title rendered in lurid 8 bit graphics, giving a large hint at what is to come – fun, violent, fun.

It’s clear that everyone is having a great time in this film, Statham maintains a manic cockney menace throughout, Amy Smart is a ditzy stoner chick oblivious to events around her, and every bit part player is a memorable character from the Haitian cab driver that constantly talks about drugs made from “plant shit” while berating Chev and calling him a crackhead, to the male nurse forced at gunpoint to shock Chev with a defibrillator paddle.

The story itself isn't particularly complex as it's standard revenge fare. What is interesting is Chev's rampage throughout L.A and his effect on everyone he meets. At one point Chev even takes a break from the plot to ride a stolen police motorbike through the streets while he comes down from a massive adrenalie shot that he took earlier. To use the old saying, it's not the destination - it's the journey.

Crank is great entertainment. I'm not advocating it as the greatest film ever made, heck, it's not even the greatest action movie ever made but it is one of the most enjoyable. Next time you're feeling a little down, give Crank a watch and it'll cheer you right up.

Here's the trailer but be warned that for some reason they decided to remove almost all traces of humour from it. Fortunately they rectified this mistake for Crank 2...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Shut It, You

Yeah, yeah, been quite on here recently. Look at that panel, it's from Satan (again) by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson.

Next week Merlin series two begins and so does the snark, along with some kind of respectable posting schedule. Expect the snark filled recap a couple of days after transmission.